Living in the West Bank The following pages contain short essays written by students in a freshman English class at Dar al-Kalima College in Bethlehem, West Bank of Palestine. The assignment was to tell Americans (or other foreigners) what it is like for them to live in Palestine under Israeli occupation. I corrected most grammar errors and misused vocabulary. Otherwise, I did not change the content. I included all the essays that were submitted to me. Occasionally, I put explanatory material in brackets. Most of the essays include the names and e-mail addresses of the writers. They would be happy to hear from any readers and answer questions. Note that they gave me hard copies of their essays and many were hand-written. I then typed all of them up on my own computer. I may not have gotten their names or e-mail addresses correct. If you try to e-mail somebody and it bounces back, let me know and I can try to find the right address.
The Israeli occupation affects my daily life in several ways. First of all, the fears which live inside me each and every day prevent me from living normally like any person on earth. I live under the fear of being injured or shot at by Israeli snipers for no reason.
Secondly, medical treatment is a basic requirement to live a good life, but getting health care has become an obstacle for me. The Israeli barriers are now surrounding every town in the West Bank, so that the Palestinian people cannot come and go normally. We Palestinians lack access to good health care because of the Israeli occupation. In order to go to a good hospital in Israel, we have to get written Israeli permission. It is very difficult to get this permission even for a few days per year.
Everybody says that Palestinians have their own weapon, which is education. This is totally true; we grow with our education and our diplomas. Unfortunately, after we graduate, we do not find suitable job opportunities to help us build our lives and be self-reliant. Jobs are hard to find, especially good-paying jobs.
It makes me sad that we are obliged to accept that we cannot live normally and fully in our beautiful land. Seeing the sea and smelling the shore makes me feel stronger and more optimistic. Knowing that I cannot enjoy this pleasure [because of Israel travel restrictions to the Mediterranean Sea] is something that really depresses me! We are young and want to live happily, but having people occupy us make our dreams impossible.
–By Aya Abu Hamed, email@example.com
I am Hanadi Abu Jamal. I’m from Jerusalem. We and the Jewish people live in the same country. There are kind Jewish people. On the other hand, there are also bad Jewish people. The real problem is the Israeli government, and the biggest problem is the separation wall and the checkpoints! We can’t live happily.
I am studying in Bethlehem, and I really feel sad when I remember that I have to cross the checkpoint every day. Every day I have to take off my shoes and leave my bag and my things in a box until they check me!
It’s really a disaster.
I feel sad.
The Palestinian issue has been argued for a long time and is still being debated. I didn’t live at the time of my parents’ youth, but I saw and still see my generation suffering from the injustice of the occupation. I see the most severe torture of young and old Palestinian people. If I wanted to mention all the things that happen, this paper would not be long enough.
Every day countless numbers of our people yet arrested—young and old, women and men. Every day we hear about martyrs, some of them children. Every day we hear and see demolitions of our houses, buildings, and other places. Every day we hear the sounds of cars or even targeted people being blown up. We hear every day about Israelis uprooting trees and expropriating lands for their settlements. Every moment we hear of attacks, arrests or provocations for workers and travellers at checkpoints. Every day we hear about Israeli officials disturbing students and keeping them from going to their schools or universities. Every day we hear about breaking into and disrupting the sanctity of our homes, villages, churches and mosques.
This is what our daily life is like.
We cannot escape these conditions; we have no vacations, no entertainment and no breaks—none of the pleasures you experience in your daily life.
By Shorouk B.
It’s Easter time, and I as a Christian would love to visit the holy places in Jerusalem. I’d love to visit the tomb of Jesus and the Church of the Resurrection, but because of the occupation, it’s almost impossible for me to make this journey.
In order to enter Jerusalem, I need a permit. And to get one, I need to submit my name at the church or other official location. Then I need to wait for the mercy of the occupation to allow me to get this permit. They may or may not give it to me. If they do not give it to me, I cannot enter Jerusalem. Even if they do give it to me I have to submit to the insult of being personally inspected at the checkpoint.
The occupation also works to build divisions between Muslims and Christians through the permit system. Muslims are routinely denied permits to visit their holy places in Jerusalem. This way, the Israelis attempt to plant hatred between the different groups of Palestinian people.
Getting the permits is very difficult, making Palestinians suffer. I am one of those who suffer because I was deprived of the opportunity to visit the holy places on this beautiful holiday. They did not give me a permit.
Once during my summer vacation, all of my friends were out of the country (Palestine). I was bored enough to have a crazy decision to start cycling from my house in Ramallah to Bethlehem. I started at 5:00 p.m. It took me six hours to get to the last checkpoint, the Israeli checkpoint. I felt the poisons go out of my body. I was warm like a hot oven. All the dogs at the checkpoint were barking in my face, and I was sweating like a waterfall.
The soldiers at the checkpoint said, “You can’t pass here on foot or by bicycle. You should take a car.”
It was 10:30 at night. I asked a man with a big white bus to give me a ride to Bethlehem. He was so nice to me and after I told him about my trip, he was happy and sad for me at the same time. He dropped me off in Beit Sahour, close to Bethlehem. I was relaxed and cold after he gave me water and chocolate. I started cycling again and my left leg muscle went out and it stopped for ten minutes.
The Palestinian people have suffered from Israeli occupation. They have committed assassinations that have split the land. They have committed a siege of the Palestinian people and a forgery of history and Palestinian heritage for the benefit of Jewish people. They have also abused the Palestinian people and usurped their rights through the establishment of military checkpoints as a barrier.
For instance, one time I was at the checkpoint when the soldiers blocked the road leading to Ramallah from Jerusalem. Also, once when we were going to Al Quds University to hear a lecture, the soldiers ordered us to get out of the car at gunpoint. At this point, there was only 15 minutes before the lecture began. They kept us out of the car under gunpoint and examined us under the pretext of identity cards. We had to wait for two hours in the car. After this period we went back to the house because we had missed the lecture because of the soldiers.
My dad travelled to Abu Dhabi when he was 16 years old. His parents suffered from the social situation, so had to help his parents, but he didn’t have an ID. So if he came back to Palestine, he couldn’t go out again.
But, my dad loved to be here in Palestine with his parents. And we all came here with him. Then one day, the Israeli soldiers came to our city. They entered our neighbors’ homes. They searched for the people who didn’t have IDs because they wanted to kick then out of the country.
They came at 5:00 approximately. They woke up everybody. They searched everyone. They scared the children. They came to my uncle’s home, my grandfather’s home, and every neighbor’s home in our city.
We woke up and saw the soldiers. I was very afraid because I didn’t want them to take my father. I prayed more and more for the soldiers to leave. Finally, the soldiers went from my city and the soldiers didn’t come to my hoe. I thank God because he saved my father.
Three years ago, they finally gave my father the ID, and I think now we are safe on this subject.
The occupation does not give us permission to go to Jerusalem without a permit, so we have to get one. One day my sister and I decided to get a card so we went to the place where we apply for cards. We got there at 9:00. They started letting people in one by one. We waited a long time and then the Israelis said now it is lunch time, so everybody has to wait.
We waited and waited until 2:00. Then the Israelis said they couldn’t take anybody else. All the people became very angry and were not able to get in. So after all this waiting, we had to go back home without any result.
Name: ?? Maram???
In 2000, the Intifada in Palestine was going on. One day, I had to go home after school, but it was difficult for me to go home because the Israeli soldiers blocked the streets. I tried for 20 minutes, but I couldn’t go home. I tried to follow another way to avoid the soldiers. They stopped me again. Some people told me that the soldiers do this every week because they look for people to arrest. They check some people’s identities and they went away. I arrived home after an hour.
Name and e-mail????
I am Tarek Zboun from Bethlehem. I am 23 years old and I am a refugee from Ilar village in Jerusalem. Ilar is now a settlement for the Israeli soldiers. It is forbidden for me to see and visit my village so I have never seen my village in my life. But I am sure and I believe that one day I will return to my village.
I would like to talk about a story that happened to me. This story had a lot of effects on my life. It happened when I was four years old. I was playing in the street with my friends and I saw my cousin was writing on the wall something about Palestine and the resistance.
Suddenly, I saw a lot of Israeli soldiers come from behind my cousin and they shot him in front of my eyes. They killed him in front of my eyes. I was a child and I didn’t understand why they killed him. At that moment, I didn’t feel anything. He was my best cousin. He was so close to me. Until now I remember only this moment from my past when I was a child.
This story made me stronger. It helped me to quickly understand our situation and the occupation and that I am a refugee. It made me understand everything about our lack of rights and this stupid world. Or should I say bad governments with stupid people in a beautiful world.
For those who don’t know Palestine, it is a small, beautiful country in this holy land which is the center of the universe. I want to tell you some information. How do we live? What is our dream?
First of all, you have to know that the Israeli occupation is still going on. Even though they are on the border of the Palestinian land, they can enter and take whoever they want from their homes and the Palestinian army can say or do nothing. We still have more than 8,000 prisoners in Israeli prisons. We still have refugees waiting to return to their homes. Thousands have been sacrificed with their blood and souls to free Palestine.
Our daily life….What can I say? Maybe you have seen the long wall which the Israelis have built around and between the Palestinian area and the border. Maybe not. If you have a chance to see it, then you will know that we are in a big prison. We can’t go from one area to another without facing the checkpoint. If we want to go to Jerusalem, we need permission from the Israelis. It’s really funny that it is maybe easier to come from the U.S.A to Jerusalem than for us to get there. The Israelis may or may not give us permission and they do not need to explain their reasons for refusing us.
What can you do when you are sleeping in your house (safety house) and suddenly a special force army enters and stands above your head with fully armed weapons, saying to you, “get up and come with us”? Or what can you do when your child goes to school and you learn later some Israeli soldiers took him somewhere and you begin to search everywhere to find him in one of their prisons??
There are many stories like this every day of our lives. All we want is to live in a free country, where you can go wherever you want…to the beach, or from one area to another…
Finally, what I can say to you is that our cause is about freedom, dignity, and human rights. We want the same things everybody else in the world wants.
Do you think we don’t have the right to live like the other human beings on this earth?
Dar al-Kalima College
I love a girl from Ramallah and we stayed together for two years. We realized we couldn’t stay together because we faced many obstacles because of the Occupation. She needs a permit to enter Jerusalem and that’s impossible for her unless she has a very convincing case for the Israelis.
I am a human being and I have rights and the simplest right is love.
I love it here a lot, but I can’t understand why I don’t have the right to love a girl from the West Bank just because of a stupid permit. I hate these words (“wall”, “border,” “occupation”), but the word I hate the most is “human rights.” Because for us it’s just a word in the sky like “love” and “hope.” It’s not something we as Palestinians can reach.
In Palestine, we die to live.
I remember in 2010 when I was in the twelfth grade, I was asked by a teacher to do research on a Palestinian village. One option was the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem. That neighborhood was seized by the Jews, who drove the inhabitants from their homes and introduced settlers to Palestinian homes. After I got there, I decided to make a documentary film about the sad and tragic situation.
It was during the winter, and I saw children sleeping in tents that were dripping water on the inside. I saw an old woman sitting in the rain while a Jewish settler entered into her home. As he passed her by there were tears in her eyes.
I began to shoot my film, even though one of the settlers was aware of my presence and called the police. The policeman came and asked me to turn off the camera, but I kept recording. He grabbed my blouse and pulled the camera forcefully. The camera hit the ground and broke. This was the first camera I had ever received in my life. It was a gift my father bought me when he discovered that I was talented in this field. It was my most precious possession.
However, the policeman did not achieve his goal of stopping me from my dream of making films. I am now studying documentary film-making at Dar al-Kalima College to finish the work I started.
An Experiment of the Popular Resistance in Bil’in: A Peaceful and Forever Strengthening
Story of Struggle and Resistance
By Iyas Abu Rahmah
The village of Bil’in is currently living under Israeli occupation. Since 2005 Israel has built settlements that are illegal and illegitimate. And the apartheid wall that is built on the existing territory belonging to the inhabitants of the village is annexed to the State of Israel under the pretext of “security.” The wall is illegal according to the advisory opinion of the Hague International. My question to the whole world is: Why is there so much silence regarding this illegal wall? It is not a wall for security purposes, but rather is intended to steal lands and annex property in favor of the Israeli settlements.
As for my personal experience as a resident of the village of Bil’in, I have chosen photography in the village as a form of peaceful resistance that allows me to document what is happening in the village of Bil’in and other neighboring villages that are resistant to the illegal wall, settlements and the occupation from the violations imposed by Israel against the Palestinian people. Also it allows me the ability of documenting the peaceful demonstrations suppressed by the Israeli army and to share with the world my photos and expose these practices against the Palestinian people; and to help mobilie the movements of international solidarity to stand beside the Palestinian people to end the Israeli occupation and the establishment of the Palestinian state and capital in East Jerusalem.
In the village of Bil’in, the popular struggle is peacefully against the wall and settlements. The Israeli occupation forces have produced many violations and attacks on the village during the last seven years, leading to the arrest of hundreds of young men and children, and wounding more than 1,500 local participants and caused the death of martyrs on behalf of the Jawaher and Basem Abu Rahmah in the village.
Personally, my father and my uncle were among the wounded and prisoners, many times they were either injured and had been arrested or both more than once. Our family home was broken into and destroyed several times because of the presence of the International Solidarity Movement volunteers staying in our house.
We have been subjected to many injuries and injustices in the month of March of this year which have been documented through photography. I was shot with a so-called “rubber-coated” metal bullet in the foot during one of the peaceful demonstrations in the village of Nabi Saleh. It was clear to the Israeli soldier that I am a photographer and I was in front of him, unarmed, taking photos of the demonstration peacefully. The Israeli soldier who took orders from the commander intentionally shot Ali in person. This is the policy of the Israeli occupation to continue targeting journalists and photographers during their coverage of the peaceful demonstrations, to prevent the transfer of what is actually practiced by the Israeli army in the peaceful popular demonstrations.
On another occasion that I was photographing in the village of Nabi Saeh where they were peacefully demonstrating for the recovery of territory that was stolen for the benefit of the illegal settlements established on their (Nabi Saleh) territory, I photographed the suppression of the Israeli army against the demonstrators and unarmed Palestinians and with the participation of solidarity international and Israeli peace activists. In this instance an Israeli soldier attacked me and assaulted my fellow photography Ali and the armed soldiers beat me severely and attacked us. This is the policy of the Israeli occupation forces that continue to prevent the transfer of the real situation in pictures for arbitrary criminal practices against the Palestinians.
As for the suffering of the family, I’ll talk about this incident, on the night of 15/8/2009 the Israeli army broke into our house to arrest my uncle Abdullah Abu Rahma, coordinator of the Popular Committee against the Apartheid Wall in the village. He was not at home, but I and my brothers and my cousins were. The soldiers broke the doors and furniture in our home and that of my uncles. They came to continue the spreading of terror inside the house in the middle of the night while everyone was asleep. They were in search of my uncle Abdullah for his arrest for his participation in peaceful demonstrations against the wall and settlements in the village and as an organizer and leader of the peaceful marches. The Israeli soldiers knowing that my uncle Abdullah is considered a defender of human rights and the struggle against the wall and settlements in a peaceful and wide participation of the free world and the Israeli peace activists. This is the policy of the apartheid regime in the State of Israeli occupation with the suppression of the leaders and activists of the Popular Resistance against the Wall and peaceful settlement of Bil’in. We are sure that the occupation and wall will fall as the apartheid regime in South Africa fell; the apartheid regime in Israel has to.
The village of Bil’in is a small village surrounded by complacent valleys and mountains, on the road between Jaffa and Jerusalem. Bil’in is one of the villages near the province of Ramallah from its West side, about 16 km away, a population of 1,800 people, mostly working in agriculture, and about 4000 acres of land. Known as simple and good people and good neighbors, they are lovers of freedom and peace, and reject injustice.
Many homes and lands have been confiscated more than once and used for the purpose of illegal Israeli settlements. In the beginning of 1980, Israel built the settlement of “Mitatyaho” on the part of its (Bil’in) territory. At the beginning of 1990 Israel confiscated another part, where the settlement of “Kiryat Sever” was then built. At the beginning of this century in 2002 Israel built a new settlement named the settlement of “Mitatyaho East.”
In April 2004, the Israeli government’s intention to build a separation wall on village land spurred the Board in turn to notify the citizens in the village, prompting them to form a popular committee to resist this wall and the colonies, which were keen to represent the largest category of the population of the village. This committee undertook the task of follow-up with protests of the wall in the village, and the preparation of daily and weekly events, and communicating with international and Israeli peace activists, and follow-up legally and to communicate with lawyers and legal advisors in this matter.
The building of the wall started with bulldozers. The Israeli army began to work on the land of the village in Bil’in on February 20, 2005 and built the wall on the land of the village five kilometers from the Green Line (the border set in 1948 by the UN). They did this not for security, as they claim, but to steal more land and build settlements on them.
The wall significantly affects the economic resources of the village. The remainder of the land left to the villagers has been reduced from 4000 acres to 1700 acres. The wall also makes the land near it unfit for residential purposes. The villagers are forced to buy land from the neighboring villages or migrate to another city or foreign country, none of which they can afford.
The citizens have been faced with two options, either to live in appalling conditions and poverty, or to emigrate to another country. They rejected these two options and decided instead to resort to popular resistance to express their refusal to accept the current conditions.
They will work and sacrifice in order to get the wall removed.
Results of the Experiment:
1. On September 4, 2007, the Israeli Supreme Court issued a resolution declaring the wall illegal in its present path. They declared that the justifications put forth by the Israeli army declaring it was built for security purposes are not convincing. The court recommended that the wall be demolished and return it back to a length of 500 meters, or approximately 1100 acres. In so doing we were able to return half of what was threatened with confiscation. Although this was an achievement, it is not a final victory; there is a settlement on our land and the new wall also leads us to continue the journey and the continuation of the demonstrations.
2. To keep the gate open for citizens to work in their own land, especially during daylight hours.
3. Demolition of some houses in the settlement and the return of some pieces within the settlement and its surroundings.
4. Bil’in has become a symbol of popular resistance, especially in the resistance of the wall, nationally and globally, and the focus of international solidarity.
5. The unity and interdependence of the village has melted most of the problems of the interior, and they lined up in rows facing the Israeli enemy.
6. Bil’in has become a tourist site, official and popular.
7. The Popular Committee against the Wall won four local and international awards. In 2007, the Palestine International Award for Distinction and Innovation, the Yasser Arafat Award for achievement, the Carl von Ostozaki Award for Human Rights in Berlin in 2008, and the award for Creative Community of the Arab Thought Foundation of Kuwait.
8. Stop the construction of 1500 housing units of the Eastern settlement Mtetyaho B, which was supposed to be built on the territory of the village.
9. Because of the success of the People’s Committee to stop the settlement expansion on January 1, 2008, some of the young men are legendary, and they prevented settlers from the development of a new outpost on the land of the village, despite the danger they suffered.
10. Convert the land behind the wall to green by encouraging citizens to reclaim the land and plant it with grain and fruit trees, especially olives.
11. Implementation of workshops, lectures, and international conferences to resist the occupation and the wall and settlements for the dissemination of the experience of Bil’in’s peaceful protests.
12. Removal and demolition of the wall primarily on the territory of the village on the first of September 2011 to recover the village of Bil’in and about 1000 acres.
Elements that contributed to the success of the experiment:
1. Young leadership that focused on national unity (Popular Committee Against the Wall), which included the participation of most of the villagers.
2. International and Israeli solidarity activists.
3. Continuity of efforts.
4. Creativity and innovation in ideas, surprising the enemy.
5. The media.
By Iyas Abu Rahmah
My name is Hidaya. I live in Nahhalin. I have five brothers and three sisters. I study in Dar al Kalima College. A month ago, I felt some pain. I went to the hospital. The doctors decided that I have to have an operation. I stayed in the hospital for eight days. The nurses there were very kind. There was a patient with me in the same room. Her relatives helped me a lot.
The most difficult situation for me was when the doctors wanted to check my operation to make sure that everything was O.K. Now I feel better. The happiest time was when the doctors told me it was time to get discharged. I was very pleased to be back home with my family.
Abu Mazen to the United Nations
September 2011 proved that the Palestinian Authority leaders have never learned from the lessons of the last fifteen years of negotiations for a peace. They keep forgetting and ignoring the fact that what has been taken by force can’t be gotten back except by force. International popular solidarity can’t be effective if it is not followed and supported by the official government.
Going to the United Nations was not a good decision as it did not provide anything new or deal with other demands which need to be mentioned first. For example, what about the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails? What about the refugees? What about the continued detention of young people in the West Bank by the Israelis whenever they want to?
There is also the issue of settlements, which covers a large area of the West Bank. The West Bank is divided into cities where we may not go from one city to another without going through checkpoints. Now they are talking about negotiations that have not provided solutions for more than 15 years. The state has not made any progress. Now the Israelis kill people in Gaza on an ongoing basis. There is also the capital of what would be a Palestinian state (East Jerusalem) under Israeli control. If somebody wants to go to Jerusalem, they need a permit for several days. In most cases, he won’t get one; only a few people do.